Vinland Saga Volume 2 by Makoto Yukimura
It says a lot about the quality of writing in Vinland Saga that the most memorable moments in the manga for me aren’t the Viking battle scenes but instead quiet moments that reveal more about the characters in the story. The clash of wills between determined young warrior Thorfinn and the conniving Askeladd becomes even more intriguing with the plot development in this volume. The story opens with a bit of a flashback to Thorfinn’s early adventures in infiltration for Askeladd, when he is taken in by an English family who he ends up having to betray. Thorfinn attempts to tell them to run before the Viking invasion is about to crush their village, and his concern turns to resignation as he sees the destruction coming at the hands of the Vikings.
Thorfinn has an encounter with a crazed Viking commander named Thorkell. Thorkell’s glee in battle contrasts with Askeladd’s more cerebral and cynical approach. Thorfinn is defeated, but Thorkell cheerfully waves goodbye with the stumps of the fingers that Thorfinn sliced off, saying of the fight “I enjoyed our battle! We should do it again!” The name of Thorfinn’s father still functions as an element of protection, because Thors was such a legendary warrior that Thorfinn’s Viking opponents are immediately curious about his capabilities.
Askeladd has his own agenda to execute as his band begins to march across the English countryside. They encounter the timid Prince Canute, and Askeladd strikes an unusual bargain with the Welsh. There’s an element of impending doom referenced multiple times, as Askeladd references a prophesied end of the world. The clash of religions between Christianity and paganism is also explored, as is the absolute brutality of the Vikings as they plunder a village in the winter. Yukimura’s art is always strong, and I appreciate the clarity of the battle scenes, as well as the attention to detail with the characters’ emotions as they react to the events on their journey.
While Thorfinn fits in with the traditional model of a hero, I’m finding myself more intrigued by Askeladd, simply because he’s such an unreliable narrator. I’m not sure if his stated reasons for acting are the truth, which creates quite a bit of dramatic tension in the story. The deluxe production for these volumes is always a treat, and I’m looking forward to the next volume of this saga continuing.